Prostacyclin (PGI(2)) is the most potent, naturally occurring inhibitor of platelet aggregation known. To determine whether PGI(2) is bound by platelets, high specific activity [9-(3)H]PGI(2) was synthesized by iodination and subsequent base treatment of the labeled precursor [9-(3)H]prostaglandin (PG)F(2alpha) methyl ester. Binding experiments were performed at room temperature with normal citrated human platelet-rich plasma that contained [(14)C]sucrose or [(14)C]PGF(1alpha) as an internal marker for the extracellular space. Binding of [(3)H]PGI(2) plateaued within 2 min and this bond radioactivity could be displaced rapidly by excess nonradioactive PGI(2). Scatchard analysis of concentration-dependent binding yielded a hyperbolic plot which appeared to be caused by the existence of two classes of binding sites. The higher affinity class has a dissociation constant of 12.1+/-2.7 nM and a capacity of 93 (+/-21)sites per platelet. The lower affinity class had a dissociation constant of 0.909+/-.236 muM and a capacity of 2,700+/-700 sites per platelet. The relative ability of PGI(2), PGE(1), PGE(2), and 6-keto-PGF(1alpha) to displace [(3)H]PGI(2) initially bound to the higher affinity class of sites were 100:5:<0.3: <0.3. These relative abilities parallel the relative potencies of these compounds as inhibitors of ADP-induced platelet aggregation in vitro. However PGD(2), which is more potent than PGE(1) as an inhibitor of aggregation, did not displace bound [(3)H]PGI(2). The higher affinity binding site for PGI(2) appears to be the specific receptor through which PGI(2) exerts its effect on platelets.